Cass State Park hands over rail operations to Elkins-based train adventures group

January 1 not only signals a new calendar year, it also means a new operating agreement in effect at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.

In October, the West Virginia State Park system transferred Cass’ railroad operations to the State Rail Authority and the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad. The agreement goes into effect Jan. 1.

The average visitor will not notice any difference and existing employees will remain on the job, said Brad Reed, district administrator for Cass at West Virginia State Parks.

“There are traditionally 17 full-time and up to 31 part-time employees on the rail side of Cass and that being the seasonal and temporary employees during the peak summer season. And we have been assured by the future operators, Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, that they are going to employ pretty much all these folks, and that was very important to us as we entered into this. We have people up there who have worked for us for years. They’re the back bone of our operation and the town of Cass itself, and we wanted to make sure these folks are taken care of and that’s what we have been assured,” Reed said.

“We want folks to know that things should be this summer coming up as they have been in the past. You’re still going to be able to come up to Cass. You’re going to be able to ride those trains; you’re going to be able to have a great experience,” Reed said.

Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad operates the popular excursion Polar Express train in Elkins and has plans to expand operations in Cass, Reed said.

“I think you’re going to be seeing some joint train adventures, ride from Point A to Point B on one train and then get off and ride another train. It’s going to provide a tourist railroad experience that’s certainly unprecedented in West Virginia, and we’re looking forward to being a part of that,” Reed said.

The Charleston Gazette recently reported that Cass Scenic Railroad has had operating losses of about $1.5 million a year. Reed said that is a misleading figure.

“Last year we operated with a subsidy of about $1.2 million, which means that we took in $1.2 million less than we spent up at Cass. But that number is actually pretty misleading. Number one, state parks aren’t really in the money making business, much like your national parks or your city or county parks. We’re there to provide a service.

“Our mission calls for us to protect and preserve areas of scenic and natural and historic beauty and provide recreation and tourism for the state, and I believe that we’re succeeding admirably at that. Keep in mind too, that number that folks throw around, it does not account for the economic impact that our parks or Cass in particular has; for example, the local folks, the gas stations that are making money because of our visitors and the local stores. We actually believe the state tax payer reaps a benefit from our operation at Cass,” Reed said.

About 200,000 people visit Cass each year.

“This will help our bottom line as far as pure profit and loss in the park system. There’s no question that it will ease a portion of operating subsidy. That said however, there are other things that we would like to do at Cass. We have 20 rental houses up there right now, and we have 20 more in town that could be developed into rental properties as well. So we’re hoping to kind of divert the resource a little bit, and we’re hoping this partnership is going to bring in more visitors to Cass and to Pocahontas County, and we’d like to house them there at Cass if we could,” he said.

“This also is possibly going to provide some opportunity for some federal grant money that would be used to expand railroad or tourist railroading in West Virginia even further so we’ve got our fingers crossed about that,” Reed said.

Story By

Kelly Taber

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